How and Why Dogs React to What We Say
Ever wonder what it takes to be a dog whisperer? Most will tell you that the first step is understanding what a dog hears when you speak to it. Now a team of experts are trying to break this down to a science, measuring how dogs process the different components of human speech.
That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Current Biology, which details how the left and right portions of the canine brain light up when hearing various human vocalizations.
"Although we cannot say how much or in what way dogs understand information in speech from our study, we can say that dogs react to both verbal and speaker-related information and that these components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog's brain," researcher Victoria Ratcliffe said in a recent Cell Press release.
According to the study, Ratcliffe and her colleague played recordings of human speech from either side of the dog so that the sounds entered each of their ears at the same time and with the same amplitude. This allowed them to most accurately measure and compare brain activity to the same stimulus.
Interestingly, the team quickly found that each ear is associated with a different part of the speech perception process.
"The input from each ear is mainly transmitted to the opposite hemisphere of the brain," Ratcliffe explained. "If one hemisphere is more specialized in processing certain information in the sound, then that information is perceived as coming from the opposite ear."
This is even reflected in dog behavior, where the canines in the experiment turned right when hearing familiar commands which appear more meaningful to the left side of the brain. Likewise, when the intonation speech was exaggerated, the dogs almost always turned left.
This is significant because, while we don't fully understand why these speech patterns have this effect, it does suggest that the hearing processes in a dog's brain are extremely similar in operation to what is seen in humans.
This may be why we can quickly pick up on what dogs understand and easily train them.
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